The Peculiar Allure of Blog Search Terms

Like most blogging platforms WordPress provides statistics on blog views: unique visitors, referring pages, and most interestingly search terms that bring viewers here.  The following, for instance, are yesterday’s entries for this blog:

a municipal report what is the narrator’s attitude toward the south
failure of kindness
www american horror story season 3 walking dead
is it better for a jewish boy to be atheist or christian?
why i’m a pakistani first and punjabi second
what to put on professor door
brave announcement
bruce springsteen new york times op ed
nietzsche walter white
martin buber adolf eichmann

(A little game that may be played almost instantly on reading such a list is to try to guess which posts my visitors would have been directed to via the terms above. In the case of the list above, I can guess correctly in each case.)

I am not the first blogger to note that search terms are fascinating. On her blog, Elke Stangl has an entire series of interesting posts on search term, spam and error message ‘poetry’. Here is an interesting entry in her oeuvre:

spam poets
write weird things for search terms
crowdsourcing next level
work hard play hard
post modern art
narrating events

text editor blank sheet paper
gay steampunk costumes
a theory about nostalgia
theory of poetry satire
to flush the toilet

how do an gyroscope work? magic?
spinning top with helium balloon
gyroscope not falling over
patent perpetuum mobile
controlling the elements
cliche physics problems
gyroscopes are magic

zen engineering
subversive element
42 divided by 3
retro geek

how to combine theory with practice in physics
microwave oven radiation wavelength holes
40 below summer fire at zero gravity
can mice get into microwave oven
dead mice in the microwave
microwave oven theory
physics isn’t intuitive

Our fascinated engagement with search terms is triggered by a variety of factors. Sometimes it is just the  fractured syntax, an inevitable byproduct of the urge to be efficient in the framing of the search; sometimes it is the giggle-inducing revelation that your blog contains material that brings porn-seekers to it, which also serves as a reminder of how parental and governmental confidence in porn filters is misplaced; sometimes it is the glimpse provided of the anxious student–whether high-school or college–seeking online help with a writing assignment;  sometimes the idiosyncratic connections made visible–as in the ‘nietzsche walter white’ exhibit above.

Most of all though, search terms are a glimpse of the hive mind of the ‘Net: a peek at the bubbling activity of the teeming millions that interact with it on a daily basis, seeking entertainment, amusement, edification, gratification, employment.  They make visible the anxiety of the questions that torment some and the curiosity–sometimes prurient, sometimes not–that drives others; they remind us of the many different functions that this gigantic interconnected network of networks and protocols plays in our lives, of the indispensability it has acquired.

They reassure us too, that perhaps even something quite as humble as a search term that we type into a search engine may amuse and edify someone, someday.

48 comments on “The Peculiar Allure of Blog Search Terms

  1. elkement says:

    Thanks, Samir, for featuring a ‘poem’ of mine. You have said it very well – I have also been intrigued by search terms ever since … since the old days when I scrolled through the log files of my proto-blog webserver using a text editor and scripts, 10 years ago.
    I am most baffled by search terms in natural language, questions in particular. I remember when people asked things like: “Should I decide with heart or head?” as if Google were an oracle.

    Your last sentence is giving me ideas as I play with poeti-cizing anything including comments left on my blog and Facebook ads: As a Google+ user I (as well as Google and the NSA) have access to my own search term history. Probably I should create ‘poetry’ from that and call it ‘introspective search term poetry’?

    • elkement says:

      … and I am totally fascinated that you are able to collect such gems in a single day!! I always have to wait for some weeks to craft ‘meaningful’ search term poetry.

      • Michael Daniel says:

        I just started my blog this week, but I can make a short one with the terms I got today. I don’t even have to rearrange the order of the search queries, this is just how they show up in my stats page:

        quantative easing effects
        drunk dial fox
        change in facebook privacy
        janet yellen vs ben bernanke

        hmmm… maybe I should write about economics more. Economics seems to get more attention from search engines, LOL

      • Samir Chopra says:

        That’s a pretty nice collection already. Well done. And I think you are right – economics (and politics) will get you more hits for sure.

  2. elkement says:

    I have noticed a recent pronounced increase in ‘unknown search terms’ unfortunately.
    Google is going to spoil it – using SSL with all searches (not only from logged on users):
    “Google has made a change aimed at encrypting all search activity — except for clicks on ads.”

    • Samir Chopra says:

      Drat! Well, your latest post on the subject does offer some hope and/or tweeks to get around this.

      • elkement says:

        In a support forum WordPress has announced to ‘do something about it’ – but I guess this requires WP and Google negotiating and adding some technical tweaks. Before that is going to happen I would switch to using the search terms shown in Google or Bing Webmaster Tools even if that means that some of the search terms are merely impressions, but not clicks.

  3. awax1217 says:

    Interesting take. Reverse pyramid. Pyramids in verse. Verse in tense.

  4. Jules says:

    Love the poem! Search terms and end results can be so weird. Sometimes I sit there looking at them and I wonder how many pages of search results someone must have had to sift through to get to some obscure post of mine… especially if it was a fairly generic search query.

    Other times, when I’m searching for something random and end up even somewhere more random, I think about how confused that website’s owner will be.

  5. I love reading about search terms which bring viewers to blogs because a lot of them are funny and some of them are just plain weird. A couple of days ago I published a post on my blog about the amusing and random search terms which I found in my blog statistics, searches such as “Labradors are actors” or “sinister snow globes”. Most of my blog search terms are disappointingly normal and they correlate to posts on my blog. But every once in a while, I see something odd and/or funny. Congratulations on being Freshly Pressed!

  6. […] published author, has said it very well in his freshly pressed post on search terms “The Peculiar Allure of Blog Search Terms” which also featured this poem of […]

  7. […] pressed featured this lovely little piece called: The Peculiar Allure of Blog Search Terms, which is a topic that I’ve been interested in for awhile now. I know that I’m not the […]

  8. roseglace says:

    my statistics are extremely poor, but they indicate that the second most common search that leads to ‘me’ is a search for blogs about urination. some things make me proud, but i really wonder about people sometimes. 🙂

  9. On reading this I ofcourse had to see which search terms brought up my blog and they are all “unknown” apparently. I had never given this any thought before and yet am a little disappointed not to have my own list of incongruous words! Xx

  10. ROBINPOSTELL says:

    Reblogged this on ROBIN POSTELL and commented:
    A writer cannot resist reading about writing.

  11. Congrats on being freshly pressed and as a result your catalogue of strange search phrases is guaranteed to grow ever more diverse!

    Mine are all logical and related to books, though it I look back I can find the occasional odd one like:

    who was the girl that was asked to be seduced by benjamin franklin
    what about your saucepans
    marie antoinette propaganda drawings
    queen elizabeth 1 vs joan of arc

    Historical figures seem to have the most bizarre questions asked, it’s true.

  12. mikel27a says:

    Love it! ‘Tis amazing to know I am not the only one.

  13. I like the idea of search term poetry! It reminds me of something similar I’ve seen people do with the autofill responses when typing a search into google. I may have to keep it in mind for something fun to do with my own blog in the future.

  14. spencercourt says:

    For a few weeks, a blog on coffee in which I mentioned that my favorite type is Guatemalan, brought many visitors. When I checked search terms, it was not “coffee” that led them to my post but “Guatemalan porn.” Didn’t realize there was such an interest in that niche…

  15. “a search term that we type into a search engine may amuse and edify someone, someday.” – true. 😉 a blogger never knows who is it he’s helping. and how… to see the search words in one’s blog is always, quite an experience, hahaha. 🙂 cool post, thanks…

  16. This is a sound analysis on search terms. I simply loved the phrase “search term that we type into a search engine may amuse and edify someone, someday”. Good going. Keep it up.

  17. gblaw says:

    Reblogged this on gblaw's Blog and commented:
    Allure of Blog Search terms

  18. Laura says:

    Really enjoyed this post. I’m always fascinated by the search terms that bring people to my blog too, and I think you’ve really tapped into why.

  19. Samir Chopra says:

    Thanks Laura – I think they provide such interesting insights into what brings folks to the ‘Net every day.

  20. zachary says:

    I apologize to anyone who reads the search terms that lead me to their blog. Something like “bald penguin toenail rubbing mamma jammas” is likely to give nightmares.

  21. how to be found. . . . . . . i am not computer savvy, so i will have do best how to understand computer words. my understanding of a mouse is one that has four legs has long tail and hides in a hole.

  22. theodorous says:

    ‘Dead mice in the microwave’…Thanks for the post, made me smile 🙂

  23. Leah West says:

    I found this post via “Freshly Pressed” over the tag “Blogging”. Sadly, I have yet to get any search term results in my WordPress stats…even though I did a Google Adsense campaign mock up which told me the words mountain, vacation, golf, home were off the charts search terms that I should definitely incorporate into a paid campaign…and I incorporate these words (not artificially) into the context of my posts. Is there really ANY truth in advertising?

  24. […] The Peculiar Allure of Blog Search Terms: This post, my nod at the peculiar, intriguing, fascinating, sometimes disturbing search terms that bring readers to this blog (and others), was picked by WordPress for their Freshly Pressed series. My thanks to the WordPress folks for that; their selection certainly brought in many new readers to this blog. […]

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